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Five Things to Watch Out for When Golfing with Rheumatic Disease

May 3, 2023 | Rheumatic Disease


My physical therapy patients often ask, “should I play golf if I have a rheumatic disease?” The truth is the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no,” and there are a few things they should consider.

First, there are multiple forms of rheumatic diseases. The most prevalent is osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease. Joint stiffness, pain, and gradual loss of function are hallmark features of OA and are often a part of getting older. Proper exercise, walking, and even golf activities can be beneficial to combat OA. The key is judging the correct amount and type of exercise while avoiding highly repetitive routines. If you have inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or other forms of polyarthritis, golf can be a satisfying form of exercise.

Below are five considerations for golfing with a rheumatic disease:

Pace yourself.

In general, it is advisable to avoid activities beyond your fitness level. If you experience early fatigue, work toward steadily increasing your fitness and stamina levels. Regular walking and increasing distances can enhance your golf experiences.

Make exercise and conditioning a daily routine.

Off the course, golf-specific stretching and conditioning exercises should be a daily habit. These exercises can be performed at home, away from the golf course. Focus on your knees, hips, shoulders, and spine to increase flexibility and golf fitness. It is best to follow a structured program developed by your physical therapist – one that is tailored to your disease and functional status.

Warm up before hitting the links.

You should also perform warm-up or stretching exercises before playing. A good pre-game routine starts with hitting each club three to five times on the practice range. Start with wedges, then move on to other longer irons, followed by woods, and lastly, hitting your driver. Like any other sport, getting lessons from your local golf professional helps with skill development and, ultimately, enjoying the game.

Don’t surprise your body.

It’s best to do activities you've prepared your body to handle. For example, golfers may debate walking the course or taking a cart when playing. The average golfer covers six to eight miles when walking for 18 holes but might only be walking for two or three miles when using a cart. That's a big difference, and if you're not used to walking six or more miles a day, it is important to know your limits. Start by playing nine holes and slowly progress according to your post-exercise stiffness and discomfort.

Another consideration is tee selection. Most golf courses have four to six options to select from that govern the total distance for a given set of tees. If you are losing distance driving the ball off the tee, move to more forward tees. Enjoy the shorter course.

Pay attention to your form on the course.

When practicing and playing golf, remember the importance of body alignment and posture awareness. Proper spine alignment throughout the golf swing is central to a correct swing plane and ultimately your success as a golfer. Practicing proper form is better than repeating flaws – a principle to which many golf professionals will attest! With the right preparation and regular exercise, the game of golf can be both enjoyable and good for your arthritis.

Bob Richardson, PT, FAPTA

About the Author

Bob Richardson, PT, FAPTA

Bob Richardson, PT, FAPTA, is a practicing physical therapist and an avid competitive golfer, and routinely shoots below his age each time he plays. Bob is past president of the Association of Rheumatology Professionals (ARP) of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

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